Ryan Gosling is stunt motorcycle driver Luke Glanton, whose job in a travelling circus makes him a fleeting presence in the lives of others. One such other, old flame Romina (Eva Mendes), reaches out to Glanton upon his return to Schenectady, New York to inform the wandering thrill seeker of his having fathered her one year old son, Jason. In an attempt to convince Romina that he can provide for their son, despite her having set up house with new love Kofi (Mahershala Ali), Glanton decides to put the speed and technicality he’s developed as part of his circus act to criminal use in a series of bank robberies.
So far, you’d be forgiven for believing from this description and the film’s own marketing that The Place Beyond The Pines is simply a retread of Gosling’s most iconic role to date – a blue collar version of 2011’s Drive perhaps. But Pines reaches far beyond its initial plot motivations to deliver a meditative, if often meandering, study on the relationships between fathers and sons. As Glanton gathers confidence – some would say misplaced cockiness – with each bank robbed, he puts himself on the map of the police, in particular Bradley Cooper’s rookie cop Avery Cross who has also recently fathered a boy. As the admittedly long running time unfolds, Pines casts its spotlight on how the families of both men have evolved beyond their first act actions, and becomes a nuanced observation on family dynamics more akin to director Derek Cianfrance’s previous effort, Blue Valentine.
As in that film, Cianfrance puts his documentary making past to good use in allowing the camera to observe rather than dictate the action, and never is it more evident than in the film’s opening tracking shot that fully immerses the viewer into Glanton’s death-defying world of small town thrills, as well as the film’s one-take bank heists. In keeping with this, the performances of all involved are subdued and rightfully so, with no showboating scene stealing despite the wealth of familiar faces.
Pines does have its flaws, particularly under any close comparison with Cianfrance and Gosling’s original collaboration. The novel-like structure is perhaps too broad in its reach, and as such the characters don’t feel as fully fleshed as they could be, meaning the film’s attempts at emotional punches aren’t as immediately visceral as those in Blue Valentine. The film also precariously tip toes the line between down to earth realism and extraordinary situations, complete with cheesy dialogue designed for poster taglines, none more so than “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.”
So whilst the film’s attempts at epic scope may fall a little short, The Place Beyond The Pines succeeds at providing a lingering and insightful exploration into the effects of the sins of the fathers over the generations, proving that when it comes to cinematic dissection of familial relations, Derek Cianfrance is a reliable force.